On the 6th of June 1674, the erstwhile land of a consolidated foreign-ruled Deccan region gained its first Chattrapati, Shivaji Bhonsale I. The events that preceded this pompous occasion are elaborately taught to each and every student studying in the schools in Maharashtra. And why wouldn’t they be? For Shivaji is the first and most celebrated icon, a demi-god one can say, for the people of Maharashtra.
Born into the servitude of the Deccan Sultanate, he envisioned a Hindavi Swarajya, from the time he gained his senses. With phenomenal battle skills and a vision to eradicate the rule of the foreigners, he led a campaign that went on to establish one of the most powerful empires of the late medieval period. The Marathas single-handedly wreaked havoc within the bastions of the Mughals, as well as the Gujarat and Deccan sultanates. With a list of battle-hardened Chattrapatis and Peshwas, the Maratha Empire founded by Shivaji conquered almost all of India by 1759.
Were? Aren’t there still people who call themselves Marathas? There are, but they are not the Marathas who cemented this culture that thrives in Maharashtra today. When Chhatrapati Shivaji founded the empire, all those people that stood with him were Marathas. Hindus, Muslims, Christians, no matter who they worshipped; if they were a part of the Maratha Empire, they were Marathas. Santaji Ghorpade was a Maratha and Haider Ali Kohari was also a Maratha.
Fast forward 400 years, the word Maratha is now a caste. Since everyone involved during the Maratha Empire was mostly involved in fighting, the word Maratha became synonymous with Kshatriyas and today, only the Kshatriya caste can factually claim to be Marathas. The rest are all Marathis.
My primary and elementary education in Maharashtra made me think of ‘Veer’ Savarkar in high stature. It was a cursory reading of books, other than the ones prescribed by the government, which drew the entire picture of who Savarkar was, and what he stood for. His incarceration led to a growth in servitude to the British, and an exponential rise in the ideology of Hindutva. Masking a sectarian idea under the garb of Maratha identity, he wrote his first paper on the same under the alias, Maharatta, an ancient term for the region of the Marathas.
A Nazi sympathiser, Savarkar established the Ratnagiri Hindu Sabha and began propagating the idea that Muslims and Christians were misfits in the structure of India. He wrote in his paper, “If the Hindus in India grow stronger in time, these Moslem friends of the league type will have to play the part of the German Jews,” indirectly calling out for a genocide of the Muslims at that time.
Although he is often deemed as a freedom fighter, he seldom did things that helped establish a Swarajya, as the one Shivaji envisioned.
Shivaji looked at India as a land belonging to a group of cultures, not a religion. This idea is stark opposite to Savarkar’s, who saw India as a land of Hinduism and faiths that were offshoots of the same. Shivaji’s idea of Hindavi Swaraj saw India under the rule of a king who understood the cultures of the land and helped them thrive. This idea of Swarajya was picked up by Bal Gangadhar Tilak in the early 20th century and went on till the turn of the century.
The Mughals imposed Jizya under their rule, a tax paid by non-Muslims for living under the Muslim empire safely. Shivaji did not impose any such tax on non-Hindus. The ‘Chauth’ tax was imposed on each and every subject of the Maratha Empire, equally. Unlike Savarkar, Shivaji only called for driving away the kings, who had become rulers of the land, while not belonging to its culture, an idea that could have been plausible in the medieval period, but is invalid today. He never called for the extermination of Muslims or Christians, unlike Savarkar who seemed to consider Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’ as a viable way of getting rid of the Muslims and Christians in India.
Savarkar called for the removal of Muslims in the government, police, and military service by labelling them as potential traitors. However, Shivaji appointed Muslims in some of the most important positions in the army with Dariya Sarang being the chief of his navy, Ibrahim Khan as the chief of artillery, Siddhi Hilal as his personal bodyguard, and Haider Ali Kohari, one of his most trusted aides and generals.
Not only did Shivaji use Muslims as able officers in his army corps, but he also gave Yaqoot Baba, a Sufi saint, a chair in his court, and would often use his advice in spiritual matters. His Ashta Pradhan or Council of Eight Ministers was an amalgamation of people from different religions, but one set of cultures.
In recent years, the Hindutva of Savarkar has been screened over the Hindutva of Shivaji, coalescing to create an image of an authoritarian Hindu rule, which inherently ghettoizes each and every citizen who doesn’t subscribe to the idea of Hinduism.
I would readily accept a modernised version of Shivaji’s Hindavi Swarajya today, but would never ascribe to any version of Savarkar’s Hindutva. The Maratha identity and the Hindavi Swarajya that Shivaji sketched with his blood and sweat will be marred with ideas of violence and hatred when drawn on the paper of Savarkar’s Hindutva. Presently, the ink is getting weaker, and the paper, stronger.